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Celtic legend Martin O’Neill has advice for Ange Postecoglou after dramatic week for rivals Rangers in title race

© Craig Williamson / SNS GroupCeltic manager Ange Postecoglou
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou

Ange Postecoglou will look to reach his first Cup Final as Celtic manager on Saturday when he takes his side to Hampden to face St Johnstone in the Premier Sports League Cup showdown.

And, taking in account all circumstances surrounding his appointment, one of his predecessors in the Hoops hot-seat, Martin O’Neill, believes the Australian has done a fine job to date.

He arrived late to Parkhead after being targeted at the last minute when the deal to bring in Eddie Howe collapsed.

Postecoglou inherited a squad that had several players wanting to leave on the back of losing the captain, Scott Brown, to Aberdeen.

The new boss didn’t know his backroom staff, and also had to recruit more than 10 new players.

From the outside looking in, at times it appeared to be chaotic.

But, since being knocked out of the Champions League by Midtjylland and losing their opening Premiership game to Hearts, things have improved dramatically.

© SNS Group
Kyogo and Jota have been in fine form (Pic: Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

European football beyond Christmas has been secured, they trail Rangers by just four points at the top of the table, and are a game away from his first final in Scottish football.

O’Neill is sure there is still plenty of improvement on the horizon, and can see similarities from when he took on the Celtic job in the summer of 2000.

The legendary Irishman – who won the Treble in his first season, plus two more titles and Scottish Cups, as well as reaching the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, told The Sunday Post: “At this stage, I think things are going as well as can be expected.

“It looks to me as though the fans have really taken to Ange, and they are willing to give him every backing necessary.

“He had a shaky start, but he is now through that and things are on the up. The style of football is good and the players are responsive to his methods.

“So, to be where they are now, – when you consider he didn’t know his backroom staff and had to bring in a number of first-team players – he can be satisfied.

“Of course, this is just the start. As manager of Celtic, it’s all about what you do in the next game. And then the game after that. It’s relentless.

“You just need to try to win as many games of football as possible.

“When I took over as Celtic manager, I was up against an excellent Rangers team. They had won the title from us the previous season by 21 points. Last season, the gap was 25 points.

“So, back in 2000, my view was that we had to hit the ground running. To do that we needed a few new players, and we needed to get more out of the ones we already had.

“We brought in Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Alan Thompson and Didier Agathe.

“We also got plenty out of the likes of Stiliyan Petrov, Johan Mjallby, Jackie McNamara and Lubo Moravcik.

“In our first game against Rangers, we managed to beat them 6-2. That gave us so much confidence.

“On reflection, I can’t underestimate how important that victory was for everyone at the football club.

“When we next met them, and lost 5-1 at Ibrox in the November, it didn’t dent us too much. We were hurting, but we still had our confidence.

“We felt we could go on and win the Premier League.

“It’s all about recovering from setbacks, and not dwelling on them.

“Ange appears to be able to do that. And that’s a good thing.”

Martin O’Neill leaps with joy as his side consign Rangers to a 6-2 defeat at Celtic Park in his first Old Firm game in charge of the Hoops (Pic: SNS Group)

O’Neill watched the Hoops defeat Dundee at Dens Park last weekend, and was impressed.

“I thought Celtic played splendidly, in particular Jota and Kyogo Furuhashi.

“Now, it looks as though both players could be blown over by a strong puff of wind, but they are extremely talented. They’ve both done brilliantly well so far.

“That said, there is a long, long way to go before they’ll be up with the Henrik Larssons of this world. But they are both exciting footballers.

“The supporters seem to really enjoy them, and it’s great for fans to have heroes, and know they are going to be entertained.

“There is no doubt both players have been excellent recruits.”

O’Neill will watch developments at Celtic Park in the coming weeks, and knows there will be a much clearer picture in January of how things may unfold between then and May.

He said: “It’s good to have European football, and the team has recovered well after losing the first two games of their section in the Europa League.

“Back-to-back wins against Ferencvaros mean they will either stay in the Europa League or drop down into the Conference League for the knock-out stages. That’s all good.

“But it is about winning the Premiership.

“When I was the Celtic manager, I wanted to do well in Europe and we were well aware of the club’s fantastic history of winning the European Cup in 1967, and reaching the Final three years later.

“We tried to win every game, and if we were knocked out of Europe we would be hurting. But we knew the priority was to win the title.

“That was particularly the case in my first season.

“Rangers had won the previous two titles, and we didn’t want them making it three-in-a-row and really going on a roll.

“We had to stop them, and stem the tide domestically. And, thankfully, we did.

“I’m sure Ange will be thinking along the same lines. That’s what the supporters will want.

“Rangers stopped 10-in-a-row last season, and Celtic won’t want them to win the title again this season.”

A glance across the city sees their rivals looking for a new manager after Steven Gerrard’s departure to Aston Villa.

After O’Neill had left Celtic, his next job was at Villa Park from 2006-10, and he helped the club into the top six.

He was at Celtic when Dick Advocaat moved “upstairs” in December 2001 and was replaced by the then Hibs boss, Alex McLeish.

The Irishman is well aware that anything that happens at either half of the Old Firm has an impact on the other side.

But he maintained: “You have to be aware of what is going on elsewhere, but you can’t let it dominate your thoughts.

“Steven Gerrard has just moved on, and that might see Rangers doing very well in the next few weeks.

“Or the upheaval might see them suffer a wee bit, and they have a setback.

“At this stage, we don’t know for sure what the reaction is going to be.

“Either way, Celtic need to concentrate on themselves and make sure their own house is in order.

“That’s always the best way to go about your business.”